Isaiah Harrison’s path to world-class rower did not begin on the water. Rather, it began on an indoor ergonomic machine.
In fact, his rowing machine at home is a critical component of his training as he ramps up to compete at the U19 World Rowing Junior Championships slated for Wednesday through Aug. 15 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Winning a spot on the U.S. national team at the U19 Youth Nationals capped a remarkable week in June in Sarasota, Florida, in which Harrison also captured a first-place finish at the U.S. Rowing Youth National Regatta and a runner-up result in the U23 national trials.
“One thing about rowing indoor is you really learn what your body is capable of, and you can control your movement and body,” said Harrison, 18, a Coeur d’Alene native. “We translate that learning on to the water.”
Harrison firmly established himself as an elite rower on a national level with the regatta win. His ensuing results at U23 national trials and U19 Youth Nationals confirmed he is the rower to beat in his age group.
“One thing I’ve always excelled at is whenever I compete at levels above my own, I instinctively and intuitively want to rise to that level,” Harrison said. “That’s why we compete up one class and one of the reasons I competed in U23. Once I see where the competition is, I want to compete against those guys. … As long as there is someone faster than me, I want to chase that person.
“It continues to be a motivation for me because there will always be someone faster than me. That is one of the reasons why I enjoy competition and enjoy rowing. Rowing really is a simple form of competition. Everyone starts at the same time, and whoever is the more technical rower wins. It’s pure, it’s simple. It’s a really unique and beautiful form of competition in that way.”
Harrison acknowledges he does have one advantage in every race. At 6-foot-9, he benefits from leverage and rudimentary physics in ways his competitors do not. Coupled with his ceaseless devotion to finding perfect form on the water, that advantage played out at the U19 Youth Nationals, where he rowed to a winning margin of 5.4 seconds in the 2,000-meter youth men’s single final.
Harrison covered the straight-line race in 7:12.92 minutes, well ahead of runner-up Tristan Wakefield of Iowa. Wakefield had competed against Harrison in the regatta earlier in the week, but Harrison was the lone rower to attempt the trifecta of races at the U23 trials, where he placed second one day before the U19 final.
“My only other competition had two days off before coming back to race,” Harrison said. “My biggest worry was whether competing in U23 would affect my performance in U19.”
Harrison credited his focus during the race to resist any temptation to allow the building exhaustion to tarnish his week.
“I was repeating to myself every stroke, ‘I will do anything to win this race.’ One after another after another,” Harrison said. “After the race, I really let the fatigue catch up with me. But up until that point I couldn’t.”
Harrison will be a senior this fall and is home-schooled through the Trinity Home Educators Cooperative. His training for the junior worlds in Bulgaria includes 4-6 hours a day on the rowing machine or in his Hudson Ultimate Super Predator – a full-carbon-fiber scull, stretching 29 feet and weighing 32 pounds – on Lake Coeur d’Alene as many as six days a week, Harrison said.
Harrison also pitches in as an employee servicing his father Joa’s entrepreneurial pursuits. It was Joa’s interest in rowing at a local gym that piqued his son’s interest in the hobby, and his dad’s pocketbook that has financed Isaiah’s pursuit since he started competing at age 12.
“Because there are no international rowers in Coeur d’Alene or in the area, I’m largely on my own,” said Harrison, who stuck out in the races in Florida as one of few rowers, if any, not attached to a club or school program. “My family (including mom Kristie) has been my support team. They’ve been my teammates, my managers. My dad has funded me for everything I’ve done. … Now we’re moving on to fundraising for international competition.”
Harrison has never traveled to Europe and has no international racing experience, so he isn’t entirely sure what to expect when he arrives in Bulgaria. He does have goals and desires.
“In terms of expectations, I’m familiar with what I’m capable of,” he said. “That’s my expectation: To compete at my level of competency. If I can do that, if I can compete with where I’m comfortable at and can compete at my highest level or higher, that’s what I’m looking for. That would be my expectation.”